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Bringing the Benefits of Yoga to the West Bank

Posted: 06/28/2012 1:33 pm

DC yoga teachers will travel to Ramallah this July to empower community members and build sustainable programs.

For the past 10 months, Shawn Parell and Angela Cerkevich, beloved local yoga teachers and heads of Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Anahata Grace, have been developing curriculum and raising funds for a highly-anticipated teacher training program in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Responding to a growing demand for expanded and increasingly sustainable yoga programs in the city, the project will come to fruition in July as part of an ongoing partnership with Farashe Yoga, a nonprofit center in Ramallah.

The training, which will be the first of its kind in the West bank, will serve to build resources and establish new yoga-based wellness programs to schools, community centers, and refugee camps. Many of the participants already assume service roles in the community and will incorporate yoga techniques into their work to better address physical and mental wellness and relief of stress disorders. In addition to individual benefits, yoga's principles and teachings can be integrated into life off the mat, acting as catalyst for transformation and growth within a community. According to Maha Al-Sheik, co-founder of Farashe Yoga, these tools are especially important in the Palestinian context, where movement and access to economic and social resources is heavily restricted.

Since it opened in 2010, Farashe has been striving to meet the needs of the community -- offering safe, accessible yoga throughout occupied territories with only a few volunteer teachers. Anahata will help to increase the cadre of teachers that are able to offer these healing services and enable Farashe to increase their program offerings and outreach efforts.

"Yoga is a transformative healing practice. As we move, breathe, and open in awareness, we are reminded of the interdependency of all things and of our belonging in the world," says Parell, who has an academic foundation in religious studies and over 1,000 hours in teacher training in multiple lineages. "We've been inspired by our own experience on the path of yoga, and believe it should be available to anyone who seeks it"

Parell will be accompanied by fellow teacher and Anahata Founder Angela Cerkevich to lead the nine-day foundational training in Ramallah, bringing 20 years of teaching experience to the project with specific expertise in yoga therapeutics.

Cerkevich, who is currently a doctoral student in GW's department of professional psychology, established Anahata Grace in 2007 to bring the benefits of yoga to vulnerable communities locally and abroad. The nonprofit's international work continues to be driven by its mission to empower people to work through trauma, to establish a safe and peaceful atmosphere for conflict resolution, and to build community and improve quality of life by removing barriers to holistic wellness tools that exist where those services are most needed. Beginning with a pilot project in Rwanda, Cerkevich and Anahata volunteers have focused on work in post-conflict areas, building sustainable programs through teacher trainings, program development, and the creation of supportive grants tools.

The upcoming training in Ramallah will emphasize making self-care skills available to all community members and empowering women as local leaders. There will also be a strong focus on the therapeutic aspects of yoga and meditation. The training will provide foundational skills to teach yoga and meditation to children and adults, with specialized topics including prenatal yoga, yoga for school teachers, and meditation for mood management.

The D.C. community rallied behind the project, gathering and contributing funds for the 5th Annual D.C. Global Mala project which brought hundreds together to practice in Meridian Hill Park last September. Many local studios participated in the project, with some offering studio space for donation-based yoga classes to raise additional support.

To learn more and support the work of Anahata Grace, please visit www.anahatagrace.org.

 
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